Saturday, August 19, 2017

25th anniversary of disaster


When we look around and see the lack of consensus about Book of Mormon geography, there are a few key inflection points that have put us on the course we're on today; i.e., rifts among LDS scholars and educators and confusion among members of the Church and investigators.

A major inflection point occurred in 1992, when one of the biggest disasters in Book of Mormon studies was published. That makes this year, 2017, the 25th anniversary.

For 25 years now, members of the Church--almost an entire generation--have been taught a fundamentally flawed concept about the Book of Mormon.

I'm referring, of course, to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (EOM) and its infamous article about Cumorah.

You can read it here. http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Cumorah

It contains this unbelievably self-serving and misleading paragraph (with my comments in red):

"This annual pageant has reinforced the common assumption that Moroni buried the plates of Mormon in the same hill where his father had buried the other plates, thus equating this New York hill with the Book of Mormon Cumorah. [Of course, it was the two men who actually visited Mormon's depository inside the New York Cumorah--Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery--who declared it was a fact that this was the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6. It was anything but an "assumption." Yet this article in EOM doesn't even mention Letter VII.]

"Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, [the New York hill exactly fits the description in the text. What neither New York nor the text fits is the Mesomerican setting, with its jungles, jade, jaguars, and Mayan temples. Not to mention volcanoes. To avoid the obvious problems with Mesoamerica, Brother Palmer and like-minded LDS scholars and educators concocted a set of "requirements" for Cumorah that are not based on the text but are designed to limit the comical search for Cumorah to Mesoamerica.]

"Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. [See? Instead of believing Joseph and Oliver, these LDS scholars and educators look anywhere but New York.] 

"Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested."
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Brother Palmer, of course, cites his own book, In Search of Cumorah, to justify the assertion that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were, let's say, "mistaken" about the actual location of the real Cumorah.

Ever since, our LDS scholars and educators have referred to this article to support their teaching of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories.

This article was a major inflection point that has led to the ongoing confusion and problems that Mesomania have caused.

But fortunately, inflection points not only cause diversions; they can also enable course corrections.

In our day, there is another inflection point: the rediscovery of Letter VII and its context, including how often Joseph Smith endorsed it after it was published.

If we can only persuade LDS scholars and educators to take this opportunity to change course and return to what Joseph and Oliver (and all their contemporaries and successors) taught, we'll get back on course and eventually repair the damage caused by the 1992 disaster.




Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why we seek consensus

The reason for this blog is to encourage all LDS scholars and educators to agree on a simple point; i.e., that there is one Cumorah and it is in New York.

Such a consensus is critical for many reasons, but the most important is unity and harmony in the Church. A big component of that is eliminating the confusion caused by theories of Book of Mormon geography that rely on the premise that Joseph and Oliver were mistaken about the New York Cumorah. This is a serious problem for missionaries, investigators, and members of the Church generally.

Semantic debates about what is a "narrow neck of land" and where such a feature may be located detract from the larger issues of how our acceptance or rejection of what Joseph and Oliver taught about the Book of Mormon affects our ability to encourage others to read and study the Book of Mormon.

Here are more reasons why I think this consensus is important.

1. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery unambiguously declared that Cumorah was in New York (Letter VII).

2. Their testimony was republished many times and accepted by all of their contemporaries.

3. Brigham Young and others confirmed Oliver's teaching about Mormon's depository being located in the Hill Cumorah in New York.

4. Every modern prophet and apostle who has formally written or spoken about Cumorah, including in General Conference, has affirmed what Joseph and Oliver taught.

5. Joseph Fielding Smith warned that the "two-Cumorahs" theory (i.e., the idea that the "real" Cumorah is in Mexico) would cause members to become confused and disturbed in their faith, a warning that has become reality not only for members but for investigators as well.

6. The only reason why LDS scholars and educators reject what Joseph and Oliver taught is because they are convinced the Book of Mormon took place in a limited area of Central America (Mesoamerica). This belief was based on an erroneous assumption in Church history (i.e., that Joseph Smith had something to do with anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons) and a result-oriented interpretation of the text (i.e., they interpret the text to fit Mesoamerica).

7. Archaeological evidence does not contradict the New York setting; to the contrary, it supports the New York setting, once we accept what Oliver wrote about the numbers of people in the final battles and once we accept what residents in the area reported about finding artifacts, etc.

8. With the New York Cumorah as the starting point, we can understand the text to describe North America, corroborating what Joseph said about the plains of the Nephites, Zelph, the Indians in this country as the remnant of Lehi's people, etc.

9. Even with the New York Cumorah, there remains plenty of room for various models of the geography for people to study and discuss.

10. There is abundant physical evidence in North America that corroborates the text of the Book of Mormon. When more people focus on this, surely more evidence will become apparent.

We all share a goal of encouraging people to read and study the Book of Mormon. Erecting obstacles for prospective readers by creating confusion about where it took place and by raising doubts about the credibility and reliability of Joseph and Oliver is counterproductive.

And that's why we need a consensus about one Cumorah in New York.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A fair characterization?

I'm hearing some people don't think it's a fair characterization when I say that proponents of the Mesoamerican and two Cumorahs theories claim that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Whether it's fair or not may be in the eye of the beholder, but it is accurate. 

At any rate, I'm not trying to be unfair. I'm trying to summarize the position of the Mesoamerican proponents as succinctly as I can. I'd be happy to change the wording if someone can email me a more succinct, descriptive, and accurate clause.
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The basic premise of the "two-Cumorahs" theory is that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church because in Letter VII they declared it was a fact that the final battles took place in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York. They also said that Mormon's depository (Mormon 6:6) was in the same hill.

Letter VII and the Mesoamerican theory are directly incompatible. Mesoamerican proponents have to believe Letter VII is false. That's why they invented the "two-Cumorahs" theory in the first place.

In Mormon's Codex, John Sorenson wrote “There remain Latter-day Saints who insist that the final destruction of the Nephites took place in New York, but any such idea is manifestly absurd." (Emphasis added.) 

I don't know any Mesoamerican advocates who disagree with Brother Sorenson about that.

To the contrary, major LDS scholars and educators have endorsed and praised Mormon's Codex

Terryl Givens wrote the Foreword, claiming that "John Sorenson has again upped the ante with what will immediately serve as the high-water mark of scholarship on the Book of Mormon."

The book was published by Deseret Book Company and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU.

Brant Gardner and Mark Alan Wright reviewed Mormon's Codex, stating that "Sorenson’s name has become synonymous with a specific geographic correlation between the Book of Mormon and a Mesoamerican geography." They criticized elements they disagreed with, but not Brother Sorenson's condemnation of the idea of the New York Cumorah. Which is no surprise, because like other Mesoamerican advocates, they too reject Letter VII.

Book of Mormon Central frequently cites Mormon's Codex in its "KnoWhy" series.

On its home page, BYU Studies links to Brother Sorenson's maps from his book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, which are essentially the same ones used in Mormon's Codex.

Brother Sorenson isn't the only one who has written about this idea that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. In fact, if there are any Mesoamerican proponents who disagree--that is, who accept Letter VII as accurate--I'd very much like to know about them. 

I've discussed this point with many of the main Mesoamerican proponents at FairMormon, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BYU, and BMAF. They all think the New York Cumorah was a false tradition. They all think Joseph and Oliver didn't know where the Book of Mormon took place, that they speculated, that Letter VII was just their opinion, that Joseph changed his mind later in life, and that he and Oliver were wrong about Cumorah being in New York. 

Because Letter VII was reprinted so many times, even at Joseph's specific request, and because every one of Joseph's contemporaries agreed with the New York Cumorah, Mesoamerican proponents claim Joseph and Oliver misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. (Some try to soften the claim by instead asserting that Joseph passively adopted a false tradition, but that doesn't account for his repeated endorsement of the letters.)

The Mesoamerican advocates also say David Whitmer was wrong when he said he met the messenger carrying the plates to Cumorah, that Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball and others were relating an amazing joint "vision" of a hill in Mexico when they spoke about how Joseph, Oliver, and others entered the depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York on multiple occasions, etc.

Furthermore, Mesoamerican advocates claim that Joseph Fielding Smith, Marion G. Romney, Mark E. Peterson and others who have formally and specifically spoken or written about the New York Cumorah were all sharing their own opinions--and they were wrong, even when they spoke about it in General Conference.
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If anything I've written in this post is inaccurate, I'd be happy to correct it. 

Meanwhile, right now the most egregious example or rejecting Letter VII, in my opinion, is the abstract map all new BYU students have to learn. It not only teaches that Cumorah is not in New York (i.e., that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about that), but that it is in no real-world location

If you can't see Cumorah on this resolution, I put an enlargement below.

The BYU map all new BYU students must learn.

According to BYU, Cumorah is anywhere except in New York.
By comparison, here's a map of Tolkein's Middle Earth.





Friday, August 11, 2017

Suggestions for Church curriculum - structure of the Book of Mormon

Church curriculum is awesome, well adapted for various age groups and interests.

There's a graphic on this page that depicts the common understanding of the structure of the Book of Mormon and how it was translated:

https://www.lds.org/manual/book-of-mormon-video-guide/chapter-2-1-nephi-9?lang=eng

Here is the graphic:



The graphic has these problems:

1. It doesn't explain where the source plates were; i.e., in Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah (Mormon 6:6).

2. It suggests that somehow the "small plates" were inserted into the abridgment. This explanation has never made sense because (i) the Title Page, on the last leaf of the plates Joseph got from Moroni's stone box, does not mention any original plates; (ii) Joseph translated all of the plates in Harmony, including the Title Page on the last leaf; (iii) when he got to the end of this set of plates, Joseph wondered if he should retranslate from the beginning to replace the lost 116 pages; (iv) in D&C 10, the Lord told Joseph he'd have to translate the plates of Nephi, but he didn't have the plates of Nephi when he was in Harmony.

3. The diagram doesn't show how Joseph got the plates of Nephi directly from the depository in the Hill Cumorah after he moved to Fayette, NY. He didn't get them from Moroni's stone box.
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I suggest replacing that graphic with this one which more clearly explains what plates Joseph translated and where. 

All of the source plates were in Mormon's depository in the Hill Cumorah in New York (Mormon 6:6). Mormon gave the abridgment to his son Moroni, who added to them and then deposited them in the stone box he built on the Hill Cumorah. 

Joseph Smith got the abridged plates with Moroni's additions, as shown in the Title Page. He translated these in Harmony, PA. When he reached the end, the Lord told him not to re-translate the first part (which was on the 116 pages that Martin Harris lost). Instead, he needed to translate part of the plates of Nephi to replace the 116 pages.

Joseph gave the plates to a divine messenger before he left Harmony. The messenger took them to the depository in the Hill Cumorah, picked up the small plates of Nephi, took them to Fayette, and gave them to Joseph. Joseph translated them in the Whitmer home in Fayette.




Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Good things Book of Mormon Central has done

If not for their Mesomania, Book of Mormon Central (BOMC) would be a wonderful web page.

Because of their Mesomania, BOMC is unreliable; i.e., contrary to the Church's position of neutrality, BOMC continues to promote exclusively one theory of Book of Mormon geography, which unfortunately includes the "two-Cumorahs" theory which is based on the premise that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. Mesomania infects BOMC's editorial choices throughout the web page, their selection of articles for their archive, etc.

Despite their Mesomania, however, BOMC has some excellent resources that I encourage people to use in their studies. Most important, they provide access to Royal Skousen's invaluable work on the Book of Mormon text.

https://bookofmormoncentral.org/content/book-mormon-earliest-text

https://bookofmormoncentral.org/content/analysis-textual-variants-book-mormon

Here's an example. This "KnoWhy" includes a phenomenal graphic:

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-does-the-book-of-ether-begin-with-such-a-long-genealogy

Here's the graphic:

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-does-the-book-of-ether-begin-with-such-a-long-genealogy

Other KnoWhys are less useful because of Mesomania.

For example, this one.

https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/content/why-were-three-key-witnesses-chosen-to-testify-of-the-book-of-mormon

BOMC's Mesomania relies on the premise that Oliver Cowdery, Joseph Smith, and David Whitmer misled the Church for over 100 years by claiming Cumorah was in New York. According to BOMC, modern LDS scholars know better than Joseph, Oliver and David. In my view, BOMC does more to undermine the reliability and credibility of these men than anyone else, because BOMC purports to represent the best of LDS scholarship on the Book of Mormon.

This is all to say, definitely use some of the resources of BOMC, but be careful. Very careful, just as you should be when you consult FairMormon, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, etc.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

First, stop the arson

I mentioned in a previous post that Church leaders are spending a lot of their time and energy putting out fires, but they aren't figuring out who the arsonists are. In many cases, the arsonists don't even realize they're setting fires. Even when they do realize it, they think they're setting prescribed fires to prevent worse conflagrations. Or maybe they're just leaving their campfires unattended.

What I'm referring to in the context of Book of Mormon historicity and geography is the ongoing effort by LDS scholars and educators to persuade people that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York. 

Short of outright calling Joseph and Oliver liars, what could be more destructive of faith than to characterize Joseph and Oliver this way?

And yet, that teaching is implicit in everything the Mesoamerican advocates are doing. Not just the Mesoamerican advocates, but the advocates of every non-New York Cumorah, including those who promote abstract maps, the Baja theory, the Panama theory, the South American theory, and all the rest.


The entire issue boils down to whether we are going to accept Joseph and Oliver as reliable and credible witnesses (the New York Cumorah) or whether we are going to reject them as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about this essential point.

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As I've examined the history of the debate between the various theories of Book of Mormon geography, it has become apparent to me that much of the disagreement is word thinking.

One topic that has consumed a lot of energy has been the discussion about what is the "promised land" and where the "promised land" is located. Proponents of the Heartland and Mesoamerican theories both think they are interpreting the terminology about the "promised land" correctly, and neither side can "see" what the other side is saying. 

I happen to agree with the Heartland interpretation, but I also understand the Meso position, having accepted it for decades. That semantic debate never gets resolved. Both sides interpret the various scriptural passages and statements from Church leaders in a way that confirms their respective biases. Such word thinking can never lead to a consensus. It's like the never-ending debates between Mormons and Christians in which both sides use the same terms but with different meanings attached to the terms. These debates are inherently contentious and frustrating. They turn people off.

This word thinking is two-dimensional. It looks real, it seems meaningful, but it misses the main point. Debating the meaning of words is surface-level thinking. Additional examples are the debates over the interpretation of the "narrow neck of land," whether a "narrow neck" is the same thing as a "narrow neck of land," whether these are the same as a "small neck of land," and so forth. Such debates cannot lead to consensus because they are merely exercises in bias confirmation.
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To get to the main point, we have to engage in 3D thinking. What is below the two-dimensional surface? What are the semantic debates all about? What are they obscuring? Why is word-thinking not only unable to put out the fires, but is unable to stop the arsonists?

The third dimension is the credibility and reliability of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

All these semantic arguments mask the underlying reality that what we think of Joseph and Oliver drives what we believe about the Restoration at a fundamental level.

Really, everything we LDS believe depends on the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver. That's why the Mesoanerican and two-Cumorahs theories are so insidious. That's why Joseph Fielding Smith warned this theory of Cumorah in Mesoamerica (or anywhere but New York) would cause members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith. 

Until LDS scholars and educators change course and accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about the real Hill Cumorah being in New York, the fires will never be extinguished. Every time an LDS youth or an investigator is taught that Cumorah is in Mesoamerica--or, worse, is on an abstract, fantasy-world map--another fire is set in the mind of that individual.

Some individuals keep the fire at bay, but it smolders. Sooner or later, at some level, people realize that the non-New York Cumorah theories contradict what Joseph and Oliver taught. As much as they may wish they could, LDS scholars and educators cannot suppress Letter VII forever. These small fires may or may not become a conflagration, but at the very least, they generate cognitive dissonance. Some people are more willing to live with cognitive dissonance than others. 

But with around 40% of returned missionaries becoming inactive or leaving the Church, it's time to recognize that the fires we're trying to put out are being set from the inside.
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In my view, the only way to extinguish the fires is to embrace what Joseph and Oliver taught. I hope our LDS scholars and educators will someday stop trying to persuade their students and readers that these two men are not trustworthy, but so far, they have been unwilling to stop. The citation cartel continues to promote the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories. If you're unclear to whom I'm referring, go to FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, the Maxwell Institute, etc.

Fortunately, more and more members of the Church are catching on. They're extinguishing fires as fast as they can. They're rejecting the arsonists.

Now it's just a question of whether they can extinguish the fires faster than the scholars and educators set them.